EFR considers layoffs

September 1, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

Dire financial times have Eastside Fire & Rescue officials openly considering laying off firefighters, although they consider that scenario unlikely.In one cost-saving option, EFR would lay off eight people. In another, the fire agency would take $263,509 out of its operating reserve fund.

Those kinds of scenarios are on the table as Finance Chief Dave Gray and his staff look at ways to limit cost increases for 2010.

“Everybody is pretty well aware that we have a problem, and it’s unprecedented. I think it’s very serious,” Gray said.

He said he has received direction from EFR’s finance and operations subcommittee to explore a 2010 budget where Issaquah and EFR’s other four partners wouldn’t pay more than they did last year for fire protection.

The last official mandate from the EFR board of directors was to limit an overall budget growth to 5 percent of what fire protection cost in the previous year.

In that spirit, the EFR administration announced in August it would institute a salary freeze for its eight administrative employees, which could save $20,000 next year.

But the salary freeze was more of a gesture of good faith than a substantial solution to budget issues.

In one proposal, Gray said EFR would cut eight staff positions, saving $790,000 in 2010.

But he said laying people off would mean lowering the level of fire protection, and he is opposed to that.

“I don’t recommend that we have layoffs,” he said. “I’m not making a recommendation to reduce the level of service.”

In the other proposal, there would be no layoffs, but there is also no guarantee that the cost reductions can become a reality.

Gray said that the no-layoffs option would be dependent on whether the local firefighters’ union would agree to cutting $263,509 from its labor contract.

EFR would also dip into its operating reserve fund and ask for less funding for replacing equipment in 2010. The three-pronged plan would save $790,527.

Gray said either approach for the 2010 budget would be a one-year plan. Partner contributions could not level off indefinitely.

“Pretty much, when we don’t pay the bill, it affects the service level pretty quickly,” he said.

Jack Barry, Sammamish’s deputy mayor and a member of the EFR’s board, said he was encouraged by Gray’s budget tightening efforts.

“I thinking we’re getting real close,” Barry said.

He said he was concerned about using the reserve. He said he would feel more comfortable with that if there was some long-term plan to guarantee that the reserve fund could return to its current level later on.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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